(CN) - The 9th Circuit threw a lifeline to a man facing deportation to Armenia and ordered U.S. immigration officials to reconsider removing him now that he's married to a U.S. citizen.
Masis Tadevosyan is a native of Iran and Armenian citizen who came to the United States in May 2002, but overstayed his visa so an immigration judge ordered his removal to Armenia.
Tadevosyan appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals and while it was pending he married U.S. citizen Lyubov Smolyanyuk, who promptly filed an I-130 visa petition for him.
After the BIA affirmed his removal, Tadevosyan filed a motion to reopen his removal proceedings, to which he attached his I-130 petition and two affidavits of support, one from his wife and the other from his joint sponsor, Norik Abrahamian.
To qualify for U.S. citizenship, visa applicants must prove they are not a "public charge."
Therefore, a relative must submit evidence of making enough money to support the immigrant. If the relative's income is insufficient, the immigrant can submit an affidavit of support from another person willing to assist financially.
Because Tadevosyan and his wife had no reported income for 2006, they turned to Abrahamian to serve as Tadevosyan's joint sponsor.
Abrahamian testified that he made $22,211 in 2006, attached copies of his federal and state tax returns from that year and swore to his 2006 income under penalty of perjury in an affidavit.
This was not enough to convince the Department of Homeland Security, however, which opposed Tadevosyan's motion to reopen his case.
The agency argued that Tadevosyan had not submitted evidence to prove he was not a public charge because Abrahamian had not provided W-2 forms, paycheck stubs or bank statements to confirm the income on his 2006 tax returns.
The Board of Immigration of Appeals denied Tadevosyan's motion, writing "the DHS' opposition is sufficient to require a denial of the respondent's motion."
Tadevosyan then appealed to the 9th Circuit in Pasadena, Calif.
A three-judge panel from the federal appeals court breathed life into Tadevosyan's quest for U.S. citizenship Wednesday, finding that the BIA had simply rubber-stamped the Department of Homeland Security's opposition to his case.
"As we read the BIA's decision here, it is one of those in which the BIA improperly accorded controlling weight to the fact that DHS opposed the motion, without regard to whether the basis of that opposition was correct," Judge Marsha Berson wrote for the panel.
The panel focused on Abrahamian's affidavit and found that, contrary to the government's claims, it was enough to show he had sufficient income to support Tadevosyan.
"To the extent the government contends that Abrahamian should have submitted 'letters, paycheck stubs or financial statements' evidencing his income, such materials may be submitted but are not mandatory," Berson noted.
The appellate judges remanded the case to the Board of Immigration Appeals.